Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Mary Smith, who served as a nurse practitioner at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Mary Smith was raised in Howells, Nebraska, a town of 600. After graduating high school, she spent a year as a student at Nebraska Wesleyan University before enlisting in the Air Force in 1988. Smith’s father served in the military during World War II. In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald, she spoke about her desire to serve, saying, “I just felt like it was something I wanted to do. I always joke: Because I was born on the Fourth of July, I had some patriotism in me.”
Smith trained as an aeromedical specialist and spent her first tour at Royal Air Force Alconbury in Huntingdon, England. In this role, she worked as a combination of emergency medical technician, nursing assistant and medical aide. After her first tour, she left active-duty service to earn a degree in nursing from the University of Iowa while she served in the Air National Guard. She returned to the Air Force in 1995 as an officer.
In 1998, Smith served at a military hospital in Okinawa, Japan, where she worked in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). As a NICU nurse, Smith grew attached to her young patients, making the work both rewarding and difficult. In 2001, she returned to Nebraska to become a nurse practitioner and graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. She earned her master’s in women’s health.
She deployed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2008. Smith assisted at an Egyptian field hospital, treating cancer patients and combat injuries. During that time, she was the only women’s health practitioner in the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Smith retired from the Air Force in 2012 as a major after nine tours. She moved back to her hometown of Howells, Nebraska, and still works as a women’s health practitioner, focusing on helping individuals with lower incomes receive the best care possible. In 2018, Smith took part in the Patriotic Productions Honor Flight, where she and 134 other female Nebraskan Veterans ranging from 27 to 98 years old flew to Washington, D.C. The group visited memorials and received a celebration to welcome them home. Smith said she appreciated meeting and spending time with the nurses who had served before her.
Thank you for your service!
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Writer: Aubrey Benton
Editors: Nolan Lounsbery and Annabelle Colton
Fact checker: Yuki Harry
Graphic artist: Patrick Snedden